Educators in West Chicago Elementary District 33 hope a proposed kindergarten class combining English- and Spanish-speaking students will help both improve their performances.
The dual-language program is still in the planning stages, but leaders expect to present it to the community at the Nov. 30 school board meeting and have a class ready to go next fall.
“Initially, most of the day will be conducted in Spanish because we need to give the English-speaking students a chance to develop a lot of vocabulary,” said Karen Mulattieri, director of language assistance. “What happens naturally is the Spanish students pick up the English when the English students ask questions.”
Mulattieri said classes such as math, science and social studies would be conducted in Spanish and take up about 80 percent of the curriculum. Gym, music and art classes would be taught in English.
The program isn’t a new idea. Oyster Elementary School in Washington, D.C., was the setting for the first dual-language class in 1971. Since then, a variety of schools – including some in Evanston, Schaumburg and Chicago – have adopted similar programs.
“It’s such a natural idea. We have these wonderful native Spanish-speaking students (and) it will serve both populations well,” said Carol Auer, assistant superintendent for instruction.
Nearly one-third of the district’s students speak Spanish as a native language, Mulattieri said.
Although there has been some opposition, officials say many of the Parent Teacher Organizations in the district’s six elementary schools support the plan.
“I hope they have an overwhelming positive response to it,” said Deb Barclay, president of the Currier Elementary School PTO. “If it’s starting out with just one kindergarten class, I would think it would fill up rather quickly.”
Officials haven’t decided which school will host the experimental program. Parents would volunteer their children and the class would be split 50-50 by language.
Parents also would have to agree to keep their children in the program for at least three years, but Mulattieri said most will stay in the same group until seventh grade.